Resigned Resignation: Anne-Marie Cockburn on surviving grief
by Anne-Marie Cockburn, author of 5,742 Days.
As I wander around this new world having quickly learned a new dialect and obtained my new identity, I wonder where this takes me. Do I want to go there and do I have a choice anyway? Does any of us have a choice, or is there a faint map of our lives before we breathe our very first breath?
I wander back to the perfect day at the beach, the day before my girl died. Was that the most extraordinary coincidence or was that a gift I was awarded as some compensation in anticipation as to what unfolded the very next day. My map showed a big black hole that I could never have predicted as I stepped backwards into it with my girl and she was gone forever. I survived and I now have to tolerate and find my purpose as a survivor who doesn’t feel as though surviving was the most rewarding of the two outcomes.
Despite being able to still feel joy and recognise that my life is precious and interesting, it’s as though there are two versions of me now, one who is getting to know herself and one who knows who she is, but knows she can never be that person again.
I was saying to friends last night that it’s all very well for me to do all the right things in order to take good care of myself, physically and emotionally, but death is pretty permanent and that is the problem with this journey. The end result is the same and that throws me out of kilter, do I have the strength to keep contending with that, or do I run out of determination and drive at some point and curl up to merely exist?
How do I do this, and can I – that is more the point? Can I actually do this? Who’d want to have my job – being a bereaved parent is the worst job in the world. Thankless and joyless – worse than having a stroppy, ungrateful teenager to contend with! At least when Martha was here, we’d calm down and then giggle at how stubborn we both were. But that giggle is gone and I now need to draw on my own stubbornness in order to find the strength of character to face the grief, and grief doesn’t have the same sense of humour as me.
I hate you grief, but you seem to love me and cling to my ribs. I stand on grief’s fingers as it hangs on defiantly, a villain on a cliff edge. I peer over and crunch the fingers with glee and beckon grief to let go, but grief disappears and then appears behind me whispering eerily in my ear, “I always win in the end”. Acrid breath filling the air, as I turn around and am pushed – I fall to my life that isn’t death and isn’t life either, a hybrid place where the residents look as hopeful as tourists after an uncomfortable long-haul flight.
I hand in my letter of resignation, I don’t want this job, I didn’t apply for it, but grief, my boss sits there smoking a big fat cigar, his phone constantly ringing, providing no space in his schedule to read my letter. I’m ignored and the frustration builds up inside me. LISTEN TO ME, “you can’t do this”, I say. But this isn’t a job you can resign from, so I dutifully turn up on a daily basis and look forward to my lunch hour.